In late summer of 2015, I stumbled across information on the tiny Hawaiian island of Lana’i and was intrigued. My original Hawaii plan centered around backpacking three islands (Maui, Kauai, and the big island of Hawaii). Plans shifted when the intended trek on the big island was shelved due to a trail closure. At first I was thrown for a loop but then sat with the news and tried to focus on what it was that my guy and I were in search of on this trip. After a quick scan of the islands of Lana’i as well as Moloka’i, I felt they meshed with Scott’s and my commitment to experiencing the places we visit without spending too much as well as our desire to slide around as much tourism as possible and perhaps discover some areas of unspoiled beauty.

Scott:Teri Lanai
The beach at our campground

It’s often said that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans and in the case of Hawaii, this turned out to be true. Our aim was to steer clear of the more heavily populated areas and see the islands while camping and trekking. It would turn out that we would have that goal realized. Lana’i, now ninety-five percent privately owned by Larry Ellison, had me both curious re: the eco-tourism aim but also a bit apprehensive; would we be able to explore the island on a dime or would the two incredibly expensive resorts somehow render our camp area unfriendly and/or lacking by comparison?

Pano beach
Sneak peek, it turned out amazing!

We arrived at the tiny airport, only packs on our backs, in the late afternoon and after catching our shuttle, headed into town for our rental jeep. I should add here, that this is one pricey situation that we succumbed to. The only rentals on the island are jeeps and they are not on a dime. It would be difficult to traverse any of the off-road terrain without them and traveling to and from the campground is eight miles so any trip to town is made a heck of a lot easier with a rental. We saw no one hitching while we were there and we were told the resorts no longer offer shuttle services for a fee to non-guests.

This was all we carried for 17 days, truth.


Upon grabbing the jeep, we made straight for the campground which again, compared to many camp spots throughout the U.S. is not on a dime but compared to the Four Seasons which is literally right next door, it’s lottery. The price breakdown when were there was: campsite (including fees, tax, etc) $45 per night, the Four Seasons started at $895 a night and soared even higher depending on room choice. And I kid you not, our section of the pristine, white sand beach was far superior to the section adjacent to the Four Seasons which looked a bit rocky and choppy. Quick note: there is only this one campground on the island, Hulopo’e Bay but it was so stunning and uncrowded that there should be no need for any others.

View from our campsite

The campground turned out to be immaculate with picnic tables, wooden platforms, and automatic flushing toilets, however, the only shower facilities were cold water and on the beach. The win for this happy camper was that each campsite, scented naturally by the abundant plumeria trees, also had cold water faucets so Scott and I were able to wash our hair via these and I’ll go ahead and share that the Four Season’s spa ain’t got nothing on this on-a-dimer as I not only washed my hair but also shaved my legs, washed up, and even coconut oiled my epidermis and was positively glowing afterward.

Teri post clean-up
Post camp-spa time

*Throughout our trip we were very careful about using correct soap in certain places in order to not contaminate water and plant life and we chose coconut oil for moisturizer for the same reason.

Another fun fact to pass along was that the entire area during our May visit was almost deserted. Our first night sleeping under the stars included a nice group of rock climbing neighbors but on our second night we were absolutely alone in the enormous campground.

Hibiscus 2

Picnic beach

If you are looking for night life beyond stargazing and/or a town experience on your vacation, you’ll be surprised to discover that it does exist. This wasn’t on our agenda but we were told of karaoke at a town bar and restaurant that is very popular with tourists and we experienced first-hand a lunch at the Blue Ginger Cafe. Scott loved his Saimin so much that he went back the next day for round two but my fried chicken caesar salad was too heavy to repeat so I zipped into Richard’s Market and grabbed a sandwich, greens, and some local beer. We both opted for “to go” and had a picnic at our camp spot. We’d spent a good portion of day two exploring some very muddy mountainous roads in the jeep as well as taking a general tour of the island so we were ready for some down time.

Richard's mkt

My vision of a hike along the well-known Munro Trail Hike had been dashed earlier when we discovered that it was just too muddy so I settled with a partial drive and tiny taste of the lush trail and mud  drenched road. I highly recommend looking into the hike if you are so inclined as everything I read alluded to amazing views and this seemed possible even though we only grabbed snippets before the road became impassible. **Warning, it is very expensive to be towed out if you get stuck and the jeep rental agency warns of this as well as includes a note on charging extra clean-up fees if you return it too filthy. We saw a number of very muddy rentals but our goal was to chill back on this piece of our four island trip and we stayed pretty true to that.

Our time on Lanai was also with the intent of letting our muscles recover from our Haleakala Crater trek and we succeeded in enjoying a much needed respite. Hours spent taking the very short hike to Sweetheart Rock were only topped by relaxed moments exploring the gorgeous tide pools right adjacent to our beach.

Pano tide pools

Tide pool treasure
Tide Pool Treasure
Sweetheart Rock
Sweetheart Rock

Sweetheart Rock pano

In the end, I felt the island retained the flavor of Hawaii and the private ownership had not seemed to overshadow the existent community but I do completely realize that this is from an outsider who had not seen the island pre-sale. I hope that options like the campground remain intact as visiting any of the Hawaiian Islands is already pricey enough and the idea that money can be saved by camping is truly wonderful. In addition, for those wanting to wake in a tent to the sound of the surf and stroll to the beach, coffee in hand for a peaceful sunrise, this place still offers that up and to that we say “Mahalo Lana’i”.

Coffee beach
Coffee on the beach at sunrise
Lana'i sunset
Lana’i last sunset

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